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Northwestern study links Vitamin D deficiency to increased COVID-19 mortality

Posted at 6:02 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-18 19:25:16-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Vitamin D is key for maintaining healthy bones, and not having enough can affect the immune system and inflammation. Now new research from Northwestern University shows patients with severe vitamin D deficiency are more likely to experience serious complications of COVID-19 and higher death rates.

Dr. Vadim Backman is a professor of biomedical engineering, medicine and molecular genetics at Northwestern University. He says, "Several groups we have identified which have high risk of mortality from COVID-19, such as African Americans or the elderly, most of them do have very low levels of vitamin D."

Dr. Backman led the research. He says while vitamin D doesn’t prevent COVID-19, it may help enhance the immune system "and prevent the immune system for overreacting to the virus, causing damage - organ damage, including lung damage, because of the overreaction, what is called cytokine storm."

Dr. Mark Rupp, Medical Director, Infection Control & Epidemiology at Nebraska Medicine said those groups were already at a higher risk and more research needs to be done.

“Is it really causative of those worse outcomes or is it simply linked to something else that is actually the important factor? We really just don’t know enough to say those things,” Dr. Rupp said.

The sun is a good source of vitamin D, and experts say many people are likely deficient coming out of a gloomy winter in addition to spending more time indoors during the pandemic. Dr. Rupp said many doctors will recommend a Vitamin D supplement during the winter months, but follow the recommended dosage.

“There are side effects and toxicity you can get from too much Vitamin D,” Dr. Rupp said. “A lot of it is gastrointestinal side effects, you can actually absorb too much calcium from vitamin d and can have the effects from too much calcium.”

Diet can also help increase your vitamin D. Foods rich in the vitamin include fish, cheese, egg yolks, and fortified yogurt and cereal.

But our best defense against COVID-19 isn’t a vitamin.

“I think that’s a real stretch at this point,” Dr. Rupp said. “I don’t think there’s any information to suggest taking Vitamin D will prevent you from acquiring COVID-19 if you were exposed to it. I think the important things we need to be doing to prevent Coronavirus are those measure that will help us to social distance, wearing a mask when people are in public, using good hand hygiene, not touching your face. All these things are much more important.”

Ian Lee of CBS News contributed to the contents of this article.